New Zealander in Cambodia for Khmer Rouge verdict

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The brother of one of a handful of Westerners killed by the Khmer Rouge returned to Cambodia for a landmark verdict in a war crimes tribunal, saying there can never be adequate justice for his family.

It was not clear how Rob Hamill's brother, Kerry, fell into the hands of the brutal communist regime. The 28-year-old's yacht was captured in Cambodian waters in 1978 and he and shipmate Briton John Dewhirst were taken to S-21 prison, tortured and executed.

A third member of the crew, Canadian Stuart Glass, was apparently shot dead when the boat was seized.

When the news reached Hamill's hometown of Hamilton, New Zealand more than one year later, it tore apart what had been a close-knit family. One brother committed suicide months later; Rob Hamill became a teenage drunk. His parents never recovered.

"There'll never be justice for our family," said Hamill, 46, noting his mother died seven years ago and did not get to witness the trial or hear its verdict. "I can't quite reconcile how justice can ever be served with the nature and the way these people's lives were taken."

A U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal will issue its first verdict Monday against a senior member of the Khmer Rouge, the ultra-communist regime blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians during their 1975-79 rule.

About a dozen Westerners were among the estimated 16,000 people held at S-21 before being killed.

As commander of S-21, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Those who passed through the gates of his secret prison were deemed the worst enemies of the paranoid Pol Pot regime: spies, saboteurs, traitors — and foreigners. Many were tortured. Interrogators pulled out toenails, drained blood and electrocuted prisoners to extract confessions.

In 1979 after Vietnamese invaders overthrew the Khmer Rouge, Kerry Hamill's so-called confession of espionage was among the meticulous records discovered at S-21.

Last year Rob Hamill spoke at Duch's trial, the only Westerner to do so as a victim, and tried to convey his family's suffering.

He says confronting Duch in court has helped him deal with the grief that has haunted his life, but forgiveness for his brother's killer still eludes him.

"I wanted to forgive Duch so that it would allow me to move on — until I went to S-21 and I got to see what this guy created," he said. "Any compassion I had for him at that time went out the window.

"Since then, time has a funny way of warping things," he said. "I've got an internal battle going on and maybe this sentencing will somehow further that process."

On his first visit, Hamill says he was an emotional wreck. This time he said he feels more in control, more at peace and believes his brother Kerry would approve of the way the family is finally moving on.

"I think he'd be very proud of what we're trying to do as a family to represent him after 30 years of our own family suppressing it and not talking about what happened and the effect it had on us all as a family," he said.

"I think this is a very special time and I'd like to think he's looking down and saying 'Well, it's about bloody time.'"

Rob Hamill, a rower who represented New Zealand at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, has requested a face-to-face meeting with Duch after the verdict to try to find out more about Kerry's fate. So far he's had no answer.


Post a Comment